by Lou MorganThe great thing about teenagers, for a writer, is how many mistakes they make. So when a group of them are offered some dodgy pills that one of them has found on the internet to improve their exam performance, it's entirely believable that they would take them.
Izzy is a student at Clerkenwell, a posh London school where failing exams means a future as an outcast and an object of pity. When a group of her friends get together for a study session, one of them produces some concentration-boosting pills that seem too good to be true. The side effects start with headaches and trouble sleeping. However, the worst effects don't take hold until after the exams, when Izzy and her friends have stopped taking them for some time.
Izzy is a relatable character, and doesn't stand out too much amongst her friends. She isn't the smart one, or anything like the jealous Tigs who has more money than anyone else and likes to let everyone know. Izzy is Miss Average, and the possibility that her friend Grey may have a crush on her is one of the few things making her any different from the rest. This is in spite of Tigs' attempts to monopolise Grey's attention. So it's a typical high-school story focused on exams and boyfriends, only with added horror.
The frights in question do get pretty gruesome. If there's a lot of talk of sleep it's hard not to think about nodding off, and fighting sleep is central to the characters' struggle, so I was worried that Izzy's problem would become the reader's. Fortunately this was far from the case. There are vicious twists and turns as Izzy tries to unravel the mystery of what is happening to them all, as they gradually realise the extent of the danger they're in. As their sanity starts to drift away the story moves into stalking psycho killer territory. It would be a spoiler to say too much about whether the pills lead to a supernatural, medical, or science-fictional scenario, or some kind of conspiracy, but part of the fun is guessing what is about to take place. What does unfold is highly suspenseful, with lots of nail-biting action at the top of the Barbican tower. The characters are left wondering how well they know their friends and their own minds.
If there's one thing I'd nit-pick about Sleepless, it's that a few of the characters aren't very fully defined at the start of the story. This makes for a much better mystery because it's credible that Izzy is confused about who is responsible for the mayhem and bloodshed, and it's harder for readers to work that out too. The characters are also believable as young people, rather than being the usual high school tribe caricatures. So my complaint is very minor.
Overall, this tense and engaging novel kept me reading into the early hours.
19th June 2015
Review © Ros Jackson
Source: review copy